Politics & Policy

The Problem with Paul

It was a mistake to honor him at the convention.

With the cancellation of the first night of the Republican convention in Tampa, organizers scrambled to adjust the schedule and find space across the remaining three nights for events originally slated for Monday. Unfortunately, it appears that convention planners missed an opportunity to reverse the ridiculous and regrettable decision made by the Romney campaign to feature a video tribute to retiring congressman Ron Paul, who has not even endorsed Governor Romney.

Paul did win as many as 175 delegates, and his acolytes are already trumpeting their supposed success in influencing the platform that will be unveiled in Tampa. Romney’s political advisers are of course more concerned with getting their candidate into the White House than with making waves with Paul and his often vocal supporters. Concessions have already been made to them on extraneous issues during the drafting of the platform. A speaking slot has been given to the congressman’s son, Senator Rand Paul, which he apparently plans to use to attack defense spending. But paying tribute to Representative Paul is a step too far.

Instead of honoring Paul on the way out, the delegates in Tampa should be cheering his departure. He has left a legacy of extremism and falsehoods that need to be driven from the party, not embraced by it.

It’s important to remember how far outside the mainstream Paul and many of his supporters are. His libertarian views on domestic and economic policy are said to appeal to many, especially young conservatives. We’re told that we should just ignore his extreme views on foreign policy in the interest of harnessing this energy for the greater good of the conservative movement. But to do that is to ignore how central his foreign-policy views are to what he represents.

This was on display as recently as August 1, when Congress overwhelmingly approved new sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran. In the House of Representatives, the vote was 421–6 in favor. Paul, four other Republicans, and Dennis Kucinich (D., Ohio) voted against the measure.

In his floor remarks, the congressman echoed the worst rhetoric of the conspiracy-minded by saying that the bill was “beating the war drums once again” and that the United States was “over there poking our nose . . .  in other people’s affairs, just looking for the chance to start another war.”

Americans are free to take extreme positions on foreign as well as domestic policy. The problem with Paul and his ilk is that so much of their worldview is based on pure fiction. Characteristically, Paul’s remarks on the House floor regarding Iran’s nuclear program were exaggerated or simply wrong.

When Paul remarked that “the IAEA and CIA said they are not on the verge of a nuclear weapon,” that “they are permitted to have their nuclear programs under the Non-Proliferation Treaty,” and that “we continue to be . . . obsessed with Iran and the idea that Iran is a threat to our national security,” he paints a picture of a peaceful and benevolent Islamic Republic that has never actually existed.

Indeed, in November, the IAEA reported that it had “serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme” and that “Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.” The Nonproliferation Treaty does not afford Iran — or any other country — a right to uranium enrichment. Paul’s apologia for the ayatollahs is as absurd as it is dangerous. It is wholly irresponsible for anyone who aspires to national leadership.

Paul has left a trail of similar factual errors and conspiracy-mongering on issues ranging from the defense budget to America’s position overseas, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and even the origins of the attacks of September 11, 2001 — all themes he repeated during a speech to his supporters at the University of South Florida on Sunday as he boasted that “we will get in the tent because we will become the tent eventually.”

This is not the first time that conservatives have faced the problem of fringe elements’ attempting to manipulate the hearts and minds of the movement. In the 1960s, Paul’s equivalent was Robert Welch and the John Birch Society, eventually driven from the Republican party by the likes of William F. Buckley Jr. Paul to this day refuses to disassociate himself from the Birch Society and, like Welch and Pat Buchanan, he has a history of making questionable, racist and anti-Semitic comments (some of them later blamed on staff). Anyone who has ever criticized Paul online and had to deal with his legions of vitriolic and abusive followers has no doubt about what he has spawned.

Republicans are right to criticize Democrats, including our current president, for their unwillingness to chastise those on the far left who hold anti-American views that are not reflective of our history or values. We should do the same when such impostors emerge within our own party.

Jamie M. Fly is executive director of, and Evan Moore a policy analyst for, the Foreign Policy Initiative.


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